UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Jordan Staal is not, by nature, a fighter.
But he is not one to stand by when he believes a teammate has been the victim of a suspect hit, either, which is why Staal went after Islanders enforcer Nate Thompson at 2:10 of the third period in the Penguins' 3-2 loss against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum yesterday.
Seconds earlier, Thompson had checked defenseman Martin Skoula from behind, knocking him into the boards behind the Penguins' net.
"It was a questionable hit," Staal said. "That's basically [the reason for fighting]."
Thompson landed the majority of the punches and, while Staal acquitted himself reasonably well, he might have been better off to be paired against a less accomplished opponent.
The fight is believed to have been Staal's third in his three-plus seasons in the NHL. Thompson's was his fourth this season.
"I really had no idea coming into it [that Thompson was a frequent fighter]," Staal said. "Someone told me after that he had a few fights. But you have to start somewhere, I guess."
The downside to Staal going after Thompson was that he picked up an instigating minor and 10-minute misconduct, as well as a fighting major. That took him out of the game until the final minute of regulation.
It didn't get him in trouble with coach Dan Bylsma, however.
"I don't think any of us were happy with the way [Thompson] hit our guy from behind," Bylsma said. "So I understand [Staal's] reaction."
Penguins goalie Brent Johnson made 34 saves, several of them spectacular, but what might have been his finest play did not involve a shot on goal.
Mostly because he did not let there be one.
Jack Hillen of the Islanders broke in alone on Johnson after leaving the penalty box at 15:19 of second period, but Johnson gambled and knocked the puck away from him before Hillen could put the puck on goal.
"He had a lot of speed," Johnson said. "If he had been slower, it wouldn't have worked as well. But I had in my head what I was going to do, right from the start. Just throwing the long body out and hoping to get a piece of the puck, which I did."
The Penguins have done their share of winning this season, as has their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre, which was 10-6-1 before visiting Rochester last night.
Two prospects drafted in June, however, are playing for a team whose run of success this season dwarfs anything the Penguins or their top minor league has accomplished in 2009-10.
Defenseman Simon Despres, their No. 1 choice, and right winger Nick Petersen, a fourth-rounder, play for Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
The Sea Dogs took a 15-game winning streak into a game against Drummondville last night.
Saint John was 23-4-1 overall.
Petersen entered the game with a team-high 14 goals and 11 assists (as well as a plus-minus rating of plus-24) in 20 games, while Despres had five goals, 10 assists and a plus-10 in 23 games.
Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland and Islanders tough guy Tim Jackman, both of whom have spent considerable time in the American Hockey League, got into a fight 13 seconds after the opening faceoff.
Pretty clear they have a long and ugly history, right? That both reflexively make a fist at the mere sight of the other.
Well, turns out that isn't the case at all.
Engelland said after the game that he and Jackman had fought only once previously, and that was about three years ago.
Engelland's perfectly logical explanation for why they squared off so quickly this time: "He asked me to."